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Enterprise fails on fracking

October 10, 2011
By Ed Foote

Response to your editorial "Fracking leaves a bad taste in our mouth":


New York will benefit from the development of natural gas deposits in the Marcellus shale, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desire to move ahead is neither reckless nor ill considered. The only thing reckless was your editorial of Aug. 27. I live in the Southern Tier of New York and work in northern Pennsylvania, right in the middle of the gas boom. And with a civil engineering degree and a fairly good understanding of the gas industry here, it is obvious that you know next to nothing about it. It was extremely disappointing to see what a great disservice was done to your readers by producing a commentary completely void of facts or rational argument but full of fear mongering.

The issues surrounding the hydrofracking process used to extract natural gas are as complex as they are weighty. But citing the "Gasland" film, which you call documentary but I will call propaganda, is schlock journalism. You note that in the film, folks light gas coming out of their faucets or backyard wellheads. Here's a news flash: Around these parts, from Allegany County to Tioga County, N.Y., this has been going on for a hundred years - before any gas drilling was ever present. Dah! How do you think they knew gas was here!

You correctly point out that we need to find new sources of energy and be less dependent on foreign supplies. You fail to mention that virtually all the gas in the U.S. and much of the land-based oil production is accomplished through fracking. Fracking has been used for some 30 years now, and how this process works and what we need to do to regulate and monitor it for safety is no mystery. Fortunately, New York appears to have the political will to take a deliberate approach to managing this huge opportunity with a safety-first mindset. There is little risk for groundwater contamination from natural gas wells or fracking; two studies performed by teams from Mansfield University, where I work, have failed to find any trace of contamination in water wells in our region, which by now has hundreds if not thousands of gas wells in production. In Pennsylvania, problems have occurred from very preventable surface accidents, and I believe strong regulation and monitoring in New York can minimize these risks. The good news is the gas industry expects this and is ready to pay for it.

The greatest failure of your commentary was to pass over the very real and substantial economic benefits of natural gas development like it doesn't matter. Who would guess from your editorial focus that you live in a state with a $10 billion annual budget deficit, 9 percent unemployment and rising rates of poverty and food insecurity. Worse, like many areas of the Adirondacks, your economic communities are propped up by massive state support for everything from prisons to the Olympic Regional Development Authority, your foolish scenic railroad and tourism dollars - money imported by folks who made it elsewhere. New York needs to get back to making real things, creating wealth and stopping the export of all our energy dollars out of state.

Here in northern Pennsylvania, empty little towns have sprung back to life, and scattered industrial sites that had been vacated at the beginning of the recession are now occupied by gas industry companies. In northern Pennsylvania, anyone willing to work hard can get a job; with just a high school diploma folks are earning $60,000, $70,000 and $80,000 a year. In a region that is typically 30 percent below average statewide income, that is a big deal. And this is one of very few areas nationally that real job growth is occurring. And as much as earned income is rising in the region, by the end of this year or next, royalty income, payments to landowners for their mineral rights when gas is extracted, will exceed earned income. That amounts to as much as an additional billion dollars annually in Bradford County, Pa. alone. An economic boost like that in the Southern Tier could do a lot for what ails New York.

Your suggestion that gas drilling in New York's Southern Tier could lead to a migration to the Adirondacks is a ridiculous and preposterous scenario. I hope in the future that you take the time needed to truly understand an issue this important to New York state before you pontificate. As Adirondackers, surely you can appreciate our frustration at outsiders (you, in this case) opining to undermine our economic opportunities after struggling for decades. But if you are still really worried that our future is threatened by natural gas production, and you want to help, you can start by turning off your heat.


Ed Foote lives in Painted Post, N.Y. and is director of the Mansfield University Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in Mansfield, Pa.



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